Anaerobic oxidation of ammonium (anammox) in oxygen minimum zones (OMZs) is a major pathway of oceanic nitrogen loss. Ammonium released from sinking particles has been suggested to fuel this process. During cruises to the Peruvian OMZ in April–June 2017 we found that anammox rates are strongly correlated with the volume of small particles (128–512 µm), even though anammox bacteria were not directly associated with particles. This suggests that the relationship between anammox rates and particles is related to the ammonium released from particles by remineralization. To investigate this, ammonium release from particles was modelled and theoretical encounters of free-living anammox bacteria with ammonium in the particle boundary layer were calculated. These results indicated that small sinking particles could be responsible for ~75% of ammonium release in anoxic waters and that free-living anammox bacteria frequently encounter ammonium in the vicinity of smaller particles. This indicates a so far underestimated role of abundant, slow-sinking small particles in controlling oceanic nutrient budgets, and furthermore implies that observations of the volume of small particles could be used to estimate N-loss across large areas.
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